Preview: Sept 23 Board agenda, plus other updates

A few interesting items on the Board agenda for this Tuesday, September 23 are related to student assignment policy — they are worth spending a few hours on a weekend to blog them, so here goes.

On August 26, the Board approved a temporary student assignment process — subject to review and revision after the 2015-16 enrollment process winds up — that would offer 5th grade students at eight elementary schools an additional feeder preference to Willie Brown MS (which opens in August 2015 and will be part of the enrollment process that begins in late October).  So, the revision to P5101 (our student assignment policy) said that 5th grade applicants to Brown would have priority in the following order:

  • younger siblings of students who are enrolled in and will be attending the school during the year for which the younger sibling requests attendance;
  • students attending 5th grade at one of these eight elementary schools: Dr. George Washington Carver, Dr. Charles Drew, Bret Harte, Malcolm X Academy, Gordon J. Lau, Miraloma, George R. Moscone, Edward R. Taylor;
  • students who reside in zip code 94124;
  • students who reside in CTIP 1 census tracts;
  • all other students.

Of course, students at each of the eight elementary schools named above already have a middle school feeder preference: for example, Malcolm X and E.R Taylor students have preferences for Martin Luther King, Jr. MS, while Bret Harte students have preference to James Lick MS. Miraloma students have preference for Denman MS. The idea was to add a preference to Willie Brown while taking nothing away. This way, families who had planned on one middle school choice could evaluate a new option without feeling they were losing anything.

But board members expressed concerns about some of the proposed changes in August. On Tuesday, the Superintendent will propose two new amendments. the first would strengthen the Willie Brown preference for students who attend elementary schools in the Bayview and weaken the preferences for students who currently attend Lau, Miraloma, Moscone and E.R. Taylor.

In addition, and I think this is actually the bigger news, the Superintendent is proposing to change the high school preferences to give students who attend Willie Brown MS for 6th, 7th and 8th grade a strong preference for any HS of their choice starting in 2018-19, when the first cohort of Brown students would enter HS. Currently, high school preferences are as follows:

  • younger siblings of students who are enrolled in and will be attending the school during the year for which the younger sibling requests attendance;
  • CTIP 1, with a minimum of seats reserved at each HS for students who live in CTIP1 census tracts;
  • all other students.

The Superintendent’s new proposed language is here. I’m in favor of both proposals but will ask to amend the HS proposal to give it an automatic sunset date that the Board has an option to extend. This school district has a long history of enacting wonderful-sounding proposals with unintended consequences, and while I can’t at this moment envision anything other than a more academically diverse Willie Brown MS resulting  from these two proposals, I don’t think I’m gifted with second sight.

I’m in favor of the first proposal because I think we are building a kick-ass middle school out of the ashes of one of the worst schools I’ve ever seen, and students from the Bayview deserve the first opportunity to go there. Visiting the old Willie Brown was, bar none, the most upsetting experiences I’ve had as a school board member. I saw students who weren’t learning, some staff who had given up, and others who were trying against insurmountable odds (lack of supplies, engagement, and district and community support). The school needed to close, and so we closed it in 2010. We’ve spent the last three-plus years rebuilding the school from the ground up, and are now working hard to reprogram it in alignment with Vision 2025. We’ve already hired the principal and will spend this next school year engaging the community around the school and making sure that the district’s vision of what a great middle school can be will be realized.

I’m in favor of the second proposal because I know that part of what made the previous Willie Brown MS a failed school was that it was perceived as a failing school. Many families in the neighborhood would not send their children to the school, leaving just those students whose families were less engaged and had other issues distracting them from focusing on their children’s education.  The proposed HS preference promise is a real incentive: something to say to families who are already living in the neighborhood, “we are so sure this school is going to prepare your children for any high school, we’re going to offer you the ability to attend any high school.” The policy doesn’t specifically mention Lowell or Ruth Asawa SOTA, but the district already has discretion for a portion of those schools’ competitive admissions processes.

Also on the Board’s Sept 23 agenda will be two material revisions to the charters the district has authorized for KIPP High School and Gateway High School, and these revisions affect student assignment.  Some readers might remember that last fall, I was “livid” (as the Chronicle described it) when I discovered that Gateway HS had initiated an early application deadline — in September — for students who wanted to attend the following August–a year later.  I have been clear with both charters that I cannot support manipulations to their application deadlines in order to give preferential enrollment to Gateway MS students who want to attend Gateway HS or to KIPP MS students to attend KIPP HS. I am clear that all charter lottery deadlines should align with SFUSD lottery deadlines. I have more mixed feelings about offering preference existing charter MS students to attend affiliated charter HS. But when I realized I had fewer misgivings about offering KIPP MS students preference at KIPP HS, I couldn’t justify not offering Gateway students the same preference, even though I know many families who decide, while their children are attending private schools or SFUSD-managed middle schools,  that Gateway HS is a great option for them. Voting in favor of the material revisions requested by Gateway HS and KIPP HS will make it less likely that students who discover these high schools mid-way through their middle school careers will be able to attend — this bothers me.

Finally, and not having to do with student assignment, there is the annual sufficiency hearing for books and instructional materials. This hearing is one we (the Board) always scrutinizes pretty carefully, even though in recent years we have improved a great deal (in the past having enough textbooks and instructional materials like science lab materials was a big problem).  When you read through the district’s report for this year it looks pretty good, except I am hearing some alarming things about mathematics materials since this is the first year we are implementing the Common Core standards. I’ll be asking about that.

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5 responses to “Preview: Sept 23 Board agenda, plus other updates

  1. Make it easier for me

    The preference for admission to Willie Brown Middle School should be limited to kids that live in the Bayview and the Hunter’s Point neighborhood. Nobody willingly wants to be on a bus for two hours a day if they can get a great education within 10 minutes of their house.

    Ideally, I would love to see that preference list look nice and short for the first few years! I was originally very excited to learn that there was going to a math and science focused middle school on this end of town. I was REALLY excited to learn that differentiation, individualized learning and self-pacing were the core ideas behind the new school. When I saw that they were looking for families to help get the momentum going before the school opened its door, I was quite intrigued. With this 8 schools ahead of us in the admission game, I am much less inclined to put in some heavy lifting at this stage. I imagine that some families probably won’t consider it or even look because they are at the bottom of the pile for admission. Why waste precious time if you’ve already got a very uneven chance for admission?

    Alternatively, since you will need a core group of committed families to make this work – if you are doling out preferences, why not add a category of principal allocated seats or an early adopters preference?

    I have a fifth grader at an east side school (and it’s not one of the school with a preference). We are the type of family that greatly benefits the district as a whole – we have bright, easygoing kids that test well and we give time and money to our school. We are looking at private middle schools and the model that Willie Brown MS is offering looks pretty good on paper, even without that golden ticket dangling there. I would be willing to give time and money and I know many other parents would as well if there were a *really good* chance of getting in. Because come March, when those letters roll in, and I have an offer for Visitacion Valley Middle School (I love their programs there, the kids seem happy, but it’s much much further from my house, not easily accessible via public transit and the neighborhood has some big problems) or an offer at a private school, I’m going cough up the deposit for private school and say goodbye to public without looking back.

  2. How were the golden ticket schools selected? Once again another opportunity blown by SFUSD for transparency. I also have to agree with Jean that the impact on Denman is an unintended consequence of this last minute hail mary of a plan

  3. Miraloma parents and staff were very surprised by this decision. No parent input was taken into account. Several years ago a new feeder plan was announced (Denman feeder for Miraloma) & it’s taken a while for the new feeder plan to gain traction, but it finally has taken hold at Miraloma. Twenty one families are enrolled at Denman this year and are excited have more families join them in coming years to continue the Miraloma community at Denman. This proposal may fracture our parent community and derail the progress that has been made toward the feeder middle school. I wish SFUSD would take input from the parent communities involved in this decision. Why were no forums for parent input scheduled?

  4. The Bayview is maybe the only family neighborhood in San Francisco that is racially/ethnically diverse by SFUSD definition. But for some reason Asians in the neighborhood are not sending their children to school there; at least not in representative numbers. The zip code you cite is around one-third Asian. It could be that the offer that their children could get into Lowell by attending Willie Brown will bring them in.

    I don’t know where Bayview Asians are sending their children to K-5 schools, but weakening the preference for Lau and Taylor may work against making Willie Brown more diverse and higher performing. I doubt very many parents who send their children to Miraloma will be applying to Willie Brown anyway, so weak or strong may not make any difference there.

    When I attended Washington High it had the highest academic ranking in the City, higher than Lowell. After Lowell moved to its new location, Lowell regained its top ranking and Washington’s fell. It seems it was not the quality of the administration or teaching that made the difference. Many parents of high performing children avoided the old Lowell due to its location.

    The question for Willie Brown is will be do the incentives outweigh the location.

  5. Susanne Raynard

    Hi Rachel,
    I agree with you regarding Gateway’s admission deadline for last year. How did that slip past the EPC? I was working at Vis Valley MS in September last year and became aware of this. Maybe there was an effort by Gateway to keep a low profile because the 8th grade counselor was unaware of although he had his hands quite full with other matters. Although there is a group of very dedicated parents at VVMS it was my observation that most families are disenfranchised from the school. It was almost a certainty that any parents would have had this on their radar.

    By the way, I also became aware of the lack of knowledge regarding SOTA applications and try-outs. The dedicated school staff has a very challenging job, and a great deal of their time and energy is devoted to putting out fires. In no way are they at fault for this. The EPC may come and do workshops but in my opinion that is inadequate. Guiding students from schools like VVMS requires one on one help with parents/caregivers as well as respectful encouragement. I don’t know how the district can afford that but I believe that’s what it will take.